Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) made a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds left to give Valparaiso its first Mid-Continent Conference title in school history and send the Crusaders to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history as the Brown and Gold defeated Oakland 48-46 on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Mo.
For the Crusaders, the win came in their fourth appearance in the championship game.
Valpo's defense in the first half provided the spark from the start. Trailing 10-6 with 12:52 to play, the Crusaders allowed just one field goal over the next 12:25 and took a 23-14 lead into intermission. Kathryn Knoester (Grand Rapids, Mich./Christian H.S.) drained two three-pointers during the spurt and Valpo closed the half with a lay-in by Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) with less than five seconds remaining.
The 14 points allowed marked a new tournament record for fewest points scored in a half, and came just a day after the Crusaders gave up just 16 to Western Illinois in the semifinals.
Senior Jeanette Gray (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso H.S.) helped the Crusaders build a 14-point lead, 30-16, at the 16:23 mark, with three quick baskets out of intermission. Oakland then went on a 12-2 run capped by a Katie Wolfe lay-in, her first field goal of the game. Valpo held the Mid-Con's leading scorer to just 2-of-16 shooting in the contest.
Lauren Bechtold (Hebron, Ind./Hebron H.S.) hit a three-pointer to push the lead back to seven before the Golden Grizzlies made another run. Sarah Yaksich scored inside to cut the lead to one, 39-38, with 8:02 to play. Bechtold and Knoester both hit threes to go back to seven, but Oakland again scored the next six points.
After Knoester split a pair of free throws to go up 46-44, Yaksich tied the game with a pair of her own at the 1:06 mark. Both teams had a chance to take lead in the final 30 seconds but missed shots.
After Oakland's Romica Clint missed with 13 seconds left, Gray grabbed the board and Boone pushed up court before being fouled. The sophomore calmly made both free throws, touching nothing but net.
The Golden Grizzlies had one last chance after a time out with 4.3 seconds left, but the Crusaders defense did not allow a final shot attempt.
Boone, the tournament Most Valuable Player, scored 13 points, including shooting 6-of-8 from the free throw line, and grabbed eight rebounds. Gray, who was also named to the All-Tournament Team, added 12 points and grabbed ten rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. Knoester added ten points.
Clint led the Golden Grizzlies with 15 points, while Jayme Wilson added 11 more. Amanda Batcha grabbed 16 rebounds for Oakland (13-16).
Valpo shot just 32.7% (17-of-52) in the win, while holding the Golden Grizzlies to 30.6% (15-of-49), including 21.7% (5-of-23) in the first half. Both teams struggled from the line, with Valpo making just 8-of-15 (53.3%), including the winning two.
Valparaiso (18-12) set a tournament record, allowing just 49.0 points per game in three victories. The Crusaders will find out Sunday who their first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament will be. Valpo is participating in postseason play for just the second time after advancing to the quarterfinals of the WNIT last year.